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April 5, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

China intelligence fight
The U.S. intelligence community is putting the finishing touches on a major report on China's strategic missile forces.

The new national intelligence estimate (NIE), intended as a consensus of all intelligence agencies, is said to minimize the buildup of China's strategic missile forces, a perennial problem of China analysis produced at the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Some political infighting over the new estimate has spilled over to the Pentagon from the CIA, which dominates the estimate-producing National Intelligence Council.

The Pentagon this week was set to release its annual report to Congress on the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and Chinese military power. The report is said to warn that China's strategic forces buildup poses a direct and future threat to the United States. Concerning China's growing military prowess, the report will reflect the much more realistic views that have taken shape under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Final preparations to send the report to Capitol Hill were ready but a Pentagon spokesman then said, after checking on the status of the report, that its release "is not imminent."

Other officials said the report was blocked by senior administration officials who are concerned about producing two contradictory assessments on China's missile buildup. The administration is now trying to square the hard-line Defense Department PLA military power report, which will be made public, with the soft-line intelligence community estimate that will stay secret.

Soft-line analysts at CIA and DIA, we are told, have applied an incorrect Cold War analytical model of strategic nuclear warhead numbers to the China-United States strategic balance, and thus concluded there's no threat.

China's current long-range nuclear force consists of about 24 land-based long-range strategic missiles. But Beijing has been sharply boosting its defense spending for the past decade with double-digit growth percentages. It is working on two new mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles and a new missile submarine.

The China-is-not-a-threat school of analysts apparently continues to dominate U.S. intelligence analyses of Chinese military affairs, despite some recent reforms in China analysis.

The CIA already is under fire from Congress for its weak China analysis. A panel of outside experts last year harshly criticized its work and found an "institutional predispostion" to play down Chinese military developments.

Now the new estimate is expected to fuel critics who say the U.S. intelligence agency continues to get it wrong on the emerging communist regional power.

Infiltrating helicopters ran into a few "hot" landing zones during last month's Operation Anaconda in eastern Afghanistan. Seven special-operations troops died in two insertions that were met by fierce gunfire.

But most landings found little resistance. Perhaps this was because commanders were using a trick as old as helicopter warfare itself. There was a fear that battle plans briefed to local Afghan fighters would find their way to the enemy. We are told planners briefed landing-zone locations to all the teams, then individually changed the target just before the missions went off.

No chest thumping

Top admirals at the Pentagon have put out the word that their officers are not to brag about the big role their service is playing in Afghanistan.

Navy aircraft have flown the bulk of tactical strikes from carriers in the Arabian Sea. The Marine Corps set up the first coalition air base, Rhino, south of Kandahar. Navy engineers, Seabees, have done most of the air-strip improvements in southern and northern Afghanistan. The Navy P-3 Orion, designed as a maritime patrol plane, has provided special-operations troops with their best tactical surveillance.

With those kinds of achievements, officers can't help but brag privately.

"The Navy and Marine Corps team are showing they are the only expeditionary force that can get there," said an officer.

A prominent Navy admiral sent a memo to air wing commanders early in the war. He said that, "Clearly, we have been America's main battery in this war and because of our strength and guts we are winning."

It looked bleak for supporters of Joseph Schmitz to become Defense Department inspector general. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, placed a hold on Mr. Schmitz's nomination. Senate sources said only the promise of key judicial nomination could sway Democrats to allow a vote on the Senate floor.

Mr. Levin two weeks ago finally allowed a vote and Mr. Schmitz, a lawyer and favorite of conservatives, was confirmed. How exactly a deal was brokered is a bit murky. But sources say Mr. Levin did receive something in the deal.

Shipbuilding debate
The Congressional Budget Office has entered the fray over Navy shipbuilding.

Adm. Vern Clark has angered some shipyard states by deciding not to increase the procurement line in the next defense budget. Instead, the admiral wants to first shore up near-term combat readiness items like spare parts and flying hours for pilots.

In a new report, "Increasing the Mission Capability of the Attack Submarine Force," the CBO says that "the Navy is not funding its shipbuilding budget at a level needed to sustain a 300-ship fleet over the long run. The largest shortfall by far is in construction of attack submarines. The study says the Navy has 54 SSNs and would like to maintain 55. But under current spending plans, the attack sub force will drop to 30 "as old SSNs are retired at a faster rate than new ones are built," the CBO says.

The study suggest three ways the Navy can squeeze more capability out of a dwindling force. One option is to use four converted Trident ballistic missile subs in an attack role.

New jammers
One of the hottest warplanes for U.S. war-fighting commanders around the world is the EA-6B electronic-warfare jet. The aircraft is equipped with radar-jamming equipment and special missiles that home in on radar signals. They are usually the first aircraft to go into combat. They are in high demand and their squadrons are stretched thin.

The jet is the primary tactical-jamming warplane for the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.

The Pentagon is looking at several options for bolstering the electronic-jamming-aircraft forces. One is to restart the production line and build more EA-6Bs. A second option is to build an electronic-warfare version of the F-18 known as the G model. The plane already has been dubbed a "Growler," a play on the EA-6B's nickname, the Prowler. A third option calls for making an electronic-warfare version of the new Joint Strike Fighter.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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